Thursday, June 25, 2009

To everyone who wants prayer in American public schools

To everyone who wants prayer in American public schools: I say fine. That's a great idea. In fact, it would be much more convenient, especially for the dhuhr, if it were led by school officials. That way, no students would have to worry about drawing attention to themselves when they take out their individual prayer mats at whatever time they deem best. After the recitation of adhan and iqama over the public address system, the gym would probably be the best place to gather for school prayer. That way, everyone can say the prayer together and no one will feel left out. There could even be markings on the gym wall to ensure that everyone knows the exact direction to Mecca.

prayerWhat's that you say? You don't want to take part in these prayers? I will remind you that Allah's mercy is great for those who believe in him and obey, but he has little patience for infidels. Nevertheless, you will not be forced to take part in school prayer. You may sit around the edges of the gym and watch. Everyone is free to participate or not. There's no need to feel you are being discriminated against, just because you choose not to take part in the historic American tradition of school prayer.

You're still not satisfied with this arrangement? I thought you were the one who wanted school prayer in the first place! Oh, I see... you only want school prayer in the manner of your religion. Well, I'm sorry to say that not everyone believes in your religion, and we can't have school prayers for every possible religion! That would be ridiculous! Why don't you just pray silently to your own god while everyone else is reciting the school prayer?

Still not good enough? Okay, how about this compromise. Instead of trying to shove any particular religion into public schools, why don't we just focus on educating the students instead? Let's not have an official school prayer for any religion. That way, no religion gets special treatment. No one needs to feel offended, embarrassed, or left out. You can pray to your own god or gods, on your own, whenever you like, and everyone else can do the same if they choose to do so. It's too bad you're not okay with the school prayer solution I suggested earlier, because it would bring glory to Allah and would be really convenient, but I suppose I can live with the compromise.

Now that I think about it, I guess the compromise is more in line with the First Amendment, anyway. No school prayer means your children and mine will not be discriminated against for abstaining from a prayer they disagree with. It means your children and mine will not be forced to sit awkwardly and silently through a prayer they disagree with. It means no official state endorsement of a religion you or I disagree with. That works for me. Doesn't it work for you?


dbd said...

We already have prayer in government schools, it ALWAYS begins: "I pledge allegiance..."

Tom said...

I agree Mike. The only solution I can see is a nice moment of silence for everyone. That way the wide variety of Gods can be pleased by their followers, all at the same time.

Michael Carpenter said...

As long as there are examinations, there will be prayer in school.

Codswallop said...

A very reasonable approach, to be sure. However, it will fall flat for those who need it most, because they are by definition inoculated against reason already.

webmaster said...

If someone founded an institute of tennis, and chose the International Tennis Association rules as the foundational principles, would it then be okay for a student to enter the institution and demand instruction using a baseball bat? How about using no racket at all, since a particular choice of racket by nature involves discriminating against all others?

When this nation was founded, the Founders chose - and note the Quaran was available and known to them - the principles of Christianity as those that would best serve as a guide, a source of ultimate law. Note also, they were not all Christians, yet even those who were not saw value in placing some truths above the reach of men to alter. Could Islam have worked in its place? We'll never know, because they didn't choose it.

Unlike us today, these men DID live a world where the state was the church, or vice-versa, and they didn't like it. It is unreasonable, then, to assume they would reject than system, risking life and limb to do so, then build another replica of it. They didn't.

What they did do was build a system where a fixed set of moral laws was placed at the head of all man-made laws. Blackstone's Law, the go-to book of anyone studying law then or now, explained it even before our nation was founded, if you care to look it up.

By having some laws above the ability of men to change, it prevents men from changing them arbitrarily. If that is not so, the Founders had no right to reject the tyranny of George III, because legally they were his subjects and George made the rules.
In modern day, any legal government could order the murder of any of its citizens at any time, so long as the legal process was followed.

But you cannot ever do that in a system where a moral code serves as the basis for law. That's why our Founders were bright enough to use one.

Saganist said...

Michael, I like that one. Just to be clear, I'm not advocating that prayer be outlawed from schools. Everyone is free to pray according to their own conscience. I just don't think a public school should be endorsing any particular religion by sponsoring an official school prayer.

webmaster, are you arguing that because there is a moral law that is higher than the government's laws, we should allow Christian prayer in public schools? I'm not quite following you. I will look up Blackstone's Law, but a preliminary Google search doesn't turn up much. Was Blackstone some kind of an authority on the relationship between Christianity and U.S. law?

If you believe the founders of the United States of America chose the principles of Christianity, specifically, as the source of the nation's laws, I'd be interested to see your evidence. Personally, I find it significant that the Constitution never references any gods, never references Christianity, and specifically states in the very first sentence of the very first amendment that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

It seems quite clear to me that the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. And in fact, if there were any doubt about this, the Treaty of Tripoli, which was ratified unanimously by the Senate in 1797, and signed by President John Adams, states clearly that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

This is not a tennis club. This is a nation of many people, none of whose religion may be given official preference by the government.

Anonymous said...

"Our country was founded on Christianity."
If you say it often enough, people start to believe it. However, you will find no mention of Jesus in the Constitution. In fact, search the Constitution for "Christ", "God", or "Creator" - nothing there.
Some of the founding fathers were Deists, but not necessarily Christians, and they did not try to foist their religious beliefs on others.
As stated in the Treaty of Tripoli, this country was NOT founded on the Christian religion. Interestingly, the only reference to religion in the Constitution is in Article VI:
"The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
Wow - this one is broken every election.
The worst blow to the religious right would be if everyone actually read the entire bible and also the Constitution of the United States. Instead of cherry-picking certain parts, if people actually read them in their entirety, it would shake their faith and make them realize they've been lied to by their leaders.

josh said...

Why does a school have to host a prayer time or a moment of silence ?
Have your prayer or silence before school with you family or after school for that matter. This has no place in public schools, this is a private matter.

Uncle Staple said...

I thought Blackstone was a magician.

Anonymous said...

Josh, that would mean that the parents would have to get the kids up five minutes earlier and they would have to actually spend time with them. That's obviously way too much to ask!

StoneCypher said...

I applaud your willingness to look at the issue of religion in schools from an open eyed poly-faith perspective. That you apparently feel strongly about other people's rights to their religion is commendable.

I'm curious how you reconcile this with the Mormon practice of converting deceased holocaust victims against their wishes as well as the wishes of their family. Doesn't that seem to be a clear example of exactly what you dislike, in maybe the most bitter place it could be practiced (understandably often in secret), by the people whose example you apparently follow?

Seems kind of Isaac Hayes-ish to me.

Saganist said...

StoneCypher, I reconcile it by disbelieving basically everything about the Mormon faith, by not following the example of anyone who is acting unethically, and by my vocal criticism of such practices including the one you mentioned.

I am a member of the Mormon church because I joined it several years ago, as a true believer. Since then, my perspective has shifted tremendously. I now consider myself an ignostic (I love that word), and I remain in the church mostly for my wife's sake.

Read a few of my other posts, I think you'll like them. I'm nothing like Isaac Hayes.

Harold Fowler said...

Prayer is Good and God is Great!


Saganist said...

I'm glad you believe that! Not everyone does! :-)

Jim said...

Prayer is Meaningless and God is a Fairy Tale!

vjack said...

Good one! I'm going to bookmark this and use it the next time I get this question.

The problem I imagine some will have is that they focus on numbers. They "reason" that the majority should be able to decide the prayer for everyone. Of course, this approach only works so long as they are in the majority.

Tiara said...

This is pretty close to my experience growing up in a Malaysian government school. No azan (girls school), but there was organized prayers in assemblies every start of the school session, and longer Yassin prayers on Fridays before classes. Our student body was mixed; the non-Muslims were sent to Moral Studies classes when the Muslims had Islamic Studies classes. in the morning assembly prayers they just stood around.

Matt said...

"The majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians (76%) while non-Christian religions (including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and others) collectively make up about 4% of the adult population." Get over it.

Chris said...

Why yes Matt, only 4% are not of a Christian denomination. But you would have one hell of a lawsuit if public schools were to include prayer for only religion, instead of observing all. This is the point Saganist is making. You should "get over it," knowing that there are religions other than Christianity in America. Either you respect them all or you simply exclude them completely. There is no middle ground.

Anonymous said...

"The majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians..."
No argument with that one, but that's not the point. America was founded on secular principles, not Christian principles. Read the Constitution.
You're free to practice whatever religion you want, but you can't force it on others, even if you're in the majority.
Another point - it's not true that students are not allowed to pray in school. There are dozens of opportunities throughout the school day for a student to bow his head and say a prayer. He can even say grace before he eats in the cafeteria.
What's not allowed is group-led prayer - a teacher cannot lead the class in prayer (or be forced to).
The religious right isn't satisfied with that, so they lie to you and say, "Kids aren't allowed to pray in school." They aren't satisfied that an individual student can pray if he wants - they want ALL kids exposed to Christian prayers out loud. And that infringes on others' religious freedoms according to our Constitution.

Gene Stewart said...

Christians pushing for "school prayer" are in fact pushing for "Christian theocracy". Everyone knows this. They want an American Taliban, as the article so gently points out.

Jp said...

For the record, Blackstone is the authoritative treatise on the state of _British_ law around the time of the revolution, and provides an excellent resource for the basis of many American common-law principals. It is not, however: a) meant to encompass or ennumerate any American principals; b) in any way incorporated as a founding text of American law; or c) referenced in any way whatsoever in the Constitution.

webmaster, I'm unclear on your argument, but I agree that the Founding Fathers believed that certain higher ideals needed to be encapsulated in the very foundation of America. They enshrined those ideals in the Constitution, which includes the First Amendment prohibition on establishment of religion.

Your tennis association analogy is a good example of why prayer should be allowed in church, not about why it should be allowed in school.

Project Savior said...

"The majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians (76%) while non-Christian religions (including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and others) collectively make up about 4% of the adult population." Get over it."

So which Christian prayer would you like, the one that states Catholic's practice the One true Religion and Hectics (Protestants) will burn in hell.
Or how about the Unitarian view that denies the divinity of Christ.
Or the Mormon prayer praising Joseph Smith for pulling the Newer Testament out of his hat.
If you don't like those prayers aren't you anti-christian?

Darth Rachel said...

exactly! i remember (as a northern transplant to the south in HS) sitting awkwardly while everyone had "silent time" aka "prayer time" every day after the pledge of allegiance.

you werent allowed to speak, or leave your chair.

the atheist and muslim students always found this 1 min part of the day super awkward.

plus.. you know.. it was WRONG.

Sulayman said...

I agree with your point, though I wish you didn't use the stereotype of a fundamentalist Muslim (who wouldn't talk that way)

Muslim organizations in America oppose having the 10 commandments in classrooms, because they see it as pushing more Christianity into the classroom. (not that they don't agree with those commandments in general.

Jodi said...

Very well written! I agree that prayer is a private matter and should not be done in a public school. If your faith is that important to you, send your kids to a religious school. Or, home school them.

Saganist said...

Sulayman, I am largely ignorant of the Muslim faith and I wondered whether I might offend some by my ignorance, and by the possible implication that Muslims would push for school prayer in the same way that many Christians do. I believe you when you say that they don't. My use of the Muslim faith as an example was mainly because it was the first non-Christian religion I thought of, in which prayer is important. Though I refer to Islam throughout the post, I didn't intend for the post to be about Islam per se.

Amber said...

Webmaster: the Founding Fathers weren't Christian, they were Deist. Thomas Jefferson cut apart the new testament, removing all of Jesus' miracles because he rejected them. If they'd intended on Christianity being the state religion, why did they make a point to say in the first amendment that the government shall establish NO religion? Why would they write opinions on the separation of church and state?

And in any case, lets say that we do make Christianity the state religion. What flavor of Christianity do you propose? Mormonism? Pentecostalism? Catholicism? What if the Founding Fathers had chosen the two most common denominations of their day, Unitarianism or Congregationalism? Now you're talking about either denying the divinity of Jesus, or letting Gay people marry. Any of these sound like good options?